By J.P. Anderson | September 6, 2016 | People
Tall and strapping with all-American good looks, Matt Mayberry seems like the poster boy for success, and these days, he is—a former Indiana University football star who made it to the NFL, played linebacker for the Bears, and (after a career-ending injury) is now an acclaimed keynote speaker and widely read columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, not to mention the CEO of Matt Mayberry Enterprises.
But as a teen, the Darien native was a hardcore drug addict who didn’t hesitate to steal from friends and family. The story of how he turned his life around is extraordinary, and he tells it in his new book, Winning Plays: Tackling Adversity and Achieving Success in Business and in Life. As he prepares for the book’s release today (September 6), the Chicago resident opened up to Michigan Avenue about his dramatic turnaround, his passion for Windy City restaurants, and how Oprah’s boyfriend Stedman Graham changed his life.
From drug addict to NFL player—how did you make this incredible turnaround happen?
MATT MAYBERRY: I was two weeks into a drug treatment program and I came home for a routine dinner with my family, and something happened after dinner: My father, who is by far one of the strongest human beings I have ever met, called me into his room and broke down in tears. I went and took a shower, and when I got out of the shower for the first time in three years I had the courage to look at myself in the mirror. I saw all the tears that I put on my mother’s face, all the depression and the anger, and I literally collapsed to my knees. That’s when I [decided] to start the building blocks of a bigger future for myself, which was to get a scholarship for football because that’s the only sport I had left. Athletics was my way out.
How has being a football player contributed to your success?
MM: Whatever I’ve been able to achieve in the business world came directly from me; I don’t have an MBA, my family doesn’t have a business. But I realized that as an athlete performing at a high level, those same characteristics and values apply in the game of business too.
What was your time with the Bears like?
MM: As a hometown kid getting the opportunity to play for the hometown team, it was a dream come true. I remember when I was 6 years old running around the house, driving my mother absolutely crazy wearing a Walter Payton jersey. So here I was in my early twenties and I’m living that dream, getting to play under Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and learn from some of the best.
What inspired you to share your story?
MM: I met Stedman Graham, Oprah’s boyfriend, about a month and a half prior to my injury. We talked and connected, and he asked if I wanted to speak at a leadership event. Mind you, I got a D in public speaking in college, so my immediate reaction was, ‘There is no way I am going to do this.’ But after the injury happened, I had no idea what was ahead for my future, so I agreed to speak that night—and I literally walked out of that event knowing that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
One of the book’s themes is that failure is a gift. What do you mean by that?
MM: Everyone views failure as a huge negative; they avoid it and let the fear of failure paralyze them from moving forward in every area of their life, whether that’s to create extraordinary relationships, start a business, or write the book they always wanted to write. My experience is that failure is there to mold us and help us grow stronger.
Athletes are looked at as such role models; is there anyone out there playing who you see who’s living up to that?
MM: Look at a guy like J.J. Watt. He’s a guy who has achieved an extraordinary level of success in football, but you look deeper, and he has his foundation and all the things he does for the community—he lives his life the right way, he works hard, he stays out of trouble. He hasn’t let the success get to his head, and every day he puts in the work.
How do you relax when you’ve got down time in Chicago?
MM: I eat a lot of food [laughs]. All the steakhouses: Gibsons, Del Frisco’s, Chicago Cut, those are some of my favorites. I love going out to eat, that’s definitely a hobby of mine.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling like you did?
MM: One, take full responsibility for your life. Two is to make sure you’re hanging around with people that help build you up, that are successful, and have the same dreams and ambitions that you do. And a third point is to keep expanding your vision. Read books that expand your mind, listen to audiobooks, have great conversations with people that build you up, and do whatever it takes to [improve yourself]. Not only for your life right now, but also to imagine what’s possible for your life in the future.
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